It is with that in mind that I humbly direct your attention towards the ten most important, most weighty storylines that loom on the playoff horizon.
The one major caveat: I am not including any plot points that revolve around the Lakers, the Celtics, or the LeBrons. We will have ample time to exhaust our analysis of them from every conceivable angle as the march towards June moves forward, so in the interest of providing an equal forum in terms of coverage they will not be discussed below. With that, let us move to the Bat Prognosticator: there isn’t a moment to lose!
10. How deep of a run can Dallas make?
If Dallas’ playoff run ends in a whimper (say, a first round sweep or five-game beatdown), there is a very real chance that Mark Cuban will make every effort to blow this roster up and start from starch. Only Dirk appears untouchable and given that Kidd’s contract is coming of the books this summer while Cuban remains one of but a few owners who is willing to take on major salary commitments during these economic times, there is a possibility that a first-round exit provokes a big splash this summer in the form of significant roster changes.
9. Will the Blazers be this year’s New Orleans?
It was a simpler time: Lehman Brothers still existed, gas was $4.00 a gallon, and the Hornets were a young team on the rise. Following their notable success in last year’s opening round hammering of Dallas and their gritty battle with San Antonio, every expert around had them pegged for continued success. How quickly things chance in today’s NBA. Now it is Portland that is tugging at our heartstrings and giving signs of being the Team of Tomorrow Today, if you read me. Here is hoping the Blazers can put together a relatively substantial run, if only so the world gains exposure to the brilliance that is Brandon Roy.
8. Can the Hawks recapture last season’s home mojo?
The Hawks have exactly 0% chance of beating Cleveland in a seven game series. This much we know. What we can’t say with any certainty yet is whether or not Atlanta will at least give them a series and be the frisky, exuberant crew of youngster and athletic wonderkids they were during their own games last season against Boston, or whether they will be caught in the Buzzsaw that is LeBron-James-on-his-way-to-the-rim.
7. Will ABC use theme music recorded anytime after 1980?
My money is on no (for the record, I have them using “Like a Rolling Stone”). Then again, there is always a chance they use Fort Minor or “Get on Your Boots,” so I guess we have to be careful what we wish for with this sort of thing.
6. Will the Spurs even get to the second round?
Tim Duncan is the greatest winner of his generation and the best power forward of all time. Do not attempt to tell me otherwise. In a world where Kobe is never traded to the Lakers on Draft Day, Duncan and the Spurs win at least six titles. He is everything Kevin Garnett wishes he was as a player, everything Shaq should have been as leader, and everything Karl Malone could never dream of being as a champion (cheap shot, I know).
That all said, with no Manu, with the injuries piling up at an almost comical rate, I just don’t see how even Big Timmy pulls this off.
5. Can Dwyane Wade really win a round single-handedly?
He is certainly going to give it a shot, so I suppose we might as all tune in to find out for ourselves. His Miami teammates are frightfully awful and incapable most of the time, so Wade will need all the magical band-aids he can muster to make his time in this spring’s big show last longer than a cup of coffee. 37 and 9 a game sounds about right…and I’m not putting it past him.
4. Will Yao finally get out of the first round?
Because if you don’t Mr.Ming…(in Joker voice)…”They’ll cast you out…like a leper…”
3. …Will Carmelo?
I desperately want to believe in Melo as a leader and as an equal peer of LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Now is his chance to prove that that kind of faith is not misplaced. Stop snitchin’ and start winnin’ Mr. Anthony.
2. Is Chris Paul the best player in the NBA not named LeBron?
The answer is yes. For proof, watch any of the five playoff games Paul will get a chance to play in before his horrific teammates force him to bow out of this year’s Pants Party. If you like historic efficiency, if watching the best point guard since Isiah is something you might be interested in (shout out to Bob Ryan), I suggest you find a television, and that you don’t blink.
1. Are the Magic for real?
SVG should win Coach of the Year. The Man of Tomorrow will win DPOY. They have overachieved all season and incredibly almost won 60 games. But now its money time and the Celtics await them in Round 2, licking their chops in the belief that Mickey’s tugboat warriors are paper tigers and that they lack the toughness to get it done. I have no idea if that’s the case, but either way it should be interesting to see.
I will now commence counting down the minutes to Saturday’s tip off…